My first real job out of college was working in customer service at a call center. While we didn’t have to do cold calling, we did have to sit and receive back-to-back calls, often talking to stressed out or angry college students who wanted their money back from a purchase. The job itself didn’t seem good enough to celebrate or bad enough to leave. I became comfortable. I got used to the routine of going to work and chatting with my coworkers or boss. As time went on things did improve. I became a trainer, and I got to work on projects where they needed someone reliable. At the end of the day, however, I was still in a call center and I still felt overqualified, underpaid, and under-utilized.
This went on for 6 years.
Then, in April of 2014, an opportunity came that could change everything. The manager of another group in our office told me of an opening on her team that she wanted me to fill. It would have been around a $5,000/year increase in a job in a salaried position. No more taking calls from customers. I’d finally be able to work more at my own pace and actually get paid to use my brain. I could influence change.
It seemed like a miracle.
Best of all, getting the position seemed like a sure thing…until it wasn’t. Part of the application process required that I complete a specific project, and due to a detail that I missed, I didn’t do it. Suffice to say, this ended the possibility of me changing jobs.
I was upset. This was my way out! I felt like God had set this up for me and then changed his mind at the last minute.
Recently several of my close friends have gone through similar situations. They would be faced with a great job, a relationship, or an opportunity to do something really cool. The stars seemed to align and everything looked like it would work out. The opportunities were so good and so random that it had to be orchestrated by God. But one by one they experienced disappointment. Over and over again, each person seemed to raise nearly identical questions:
- Why did God get my hopes up? Why didn’t he just tell me it wasn’t going to work out?
- Can I even trust myself to hear God correctly if I thought I heard him and was so far off?
- Why is it that God always seems give me things like “patience” and “discipline”? Why can’t he give me things that I really enjoy?
- What is God’s will for my life if it wasn’t that opportunity?
- Why doesn’t God speak to me and at least try to comfort me or acknowledge my disappointment?
To be honest, these are really big questions that I think would take more than a short article to really get into. That being said, I do have more questions which have helped me think through and begin to process my own disappointments.
#1) How valuable are my negative experiences?
I’ve talked about this before [link], but overall, I’ve found that bad things are never wholly bad. In fact, with the right perspective, bad things can be extremely good. In my example, I didn’t get the job I wanted, but:
- I developed a clearer vision for what I want in life
- I saw that no matter what, my circumstances are not set in stone
- I saw the benefits that can happen when I leave my comfort zone
- I learned to trust God more and stick with Him through a hard time
- I gained good interview experience
- I learned patience
- I was able to continue help and serve the people around me in my home department even more.
Picture two columns. One side contains the things that I missed out on (“$5,000, less stress, etc..”). On the other side, the things that I gained (see above).
Now ask, “what is the value of the things I gained versus the things I lost?” What’s the price tag on trusting God more? How much money would I spend to understand that benefits can happen when I take a risk? How much is learning more about what you want in life worth? What about patience? And what if during that time of staying put I could say some kind word to someone or helped someone through something hard? How much is that really worth?
I might’ve missed an opportunity to make an extra $5,000 per year, but realistically, the lessons that I learned were likely worth the same or more than that.
It’s almost as if God decided that no matter what, I was going to get something good. He was going to give me cash or experience that was just as valuable as the cash. No matter what it would be a gift.
#2) What if succeeding too quickly inhibits my ability to grow and understand life?
While I love American culture, parts of it have seemed to encourage me to expect that I would get what I want early on in life. It would give me examples like Taylor Swift, Mark Zuckerberg, and Justin Beiber, and then tell me how bad I am for not being more like them.
This line of thinking has bothered me, though, because if I always succeed at everything I do, I’m not laying any foundation for long-term growth. Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield had this to say in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth:
Early Success is a terrible teacher. You’re essentially being rewarded for a lack of preparation, so when you find yourself in a situation where you must prepare, you can’t do it. You don’t know how.
If I’m always succeeding, I’m not learning.
A while back I read an article by a favorite author of mine. He proposed that instead of trying to peak in your 20s and 30s, you should try to peak when you’re 65. This shift in thinking has allowed me to pursue ambition and success while taking disappointment very lightly. Whenever something is not going my way, I think to myself, I’m going to peak at 65, not 30. This isn’t a big deal.
#3) What if God’s will for me isn’t as specific as I think?
I used to think that for the big things in life, God had a specific will. He probably didn’t care as much about the little things – where I parked, what I wore, where I ate – but he did care about the big ones – whom I married, what jobs I got, what opportunities came my way, etc… This started to crumble when I heard people everywhere talk about how there was ‘no such thing as a soul mate’ and that ‘God could have multiple people in this world that would be good for you to marry.’
In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard helped me think through this concept by offering a comparison of his relationship with his kids:
When our children, John and Becky, were small, they were often completely in my will as they played happily in the back garden, though I had no preference that they should do the particular things they were doing there or even that they should be in the back garden instead of playing in their rooms or having a snack in the kitchen. Generally we are in God’s will whenever we are leading the kind of life he wants for us. And that leaves a lot of room for initiative on our part, which is essential: our individual initiatives are central to his will for us.
In my life, I’ve observed that God seems to work through my own initiatives. I typically tell him what I want to do and he typically says, “Go do it. I’m with you.” God never told me that I would enjoy writing. In fact, when I first started writing in college, I didn’t really enjoy it at all. I was a perfectionist. I wrote about things that I didn’t naturally know about, and that required me to do a lot of reading and research before starting. However, after learning several different things, I now immensely enjoy writing. In this scenario, God seems happy that I took initiative. While he did seem to open doors for me to learn new things, he didn’t force me into them. I never had a conversation with God on whether or not it was his will for me.
Now there are times where I have felt like God did have a specific will for me. In the summer of 2015, I was contemplating leaving Columbus, Ohio, and moving to another state with a young woman I had just started dating two months prior. In retrospect it didn’t sound like the wisest choice, but at the time I didn’t find a lot of obstacles in my way. If nothing else, I thought, it will be an adventure. I brought the issue up with one of my mentors and he encouraged me to pray about it. If God has a specific will here, he said, he will make it known. Two weeks later she broke up with me and moved away. In hindsight, this was really the best decision and ended up making us both a lot happier.
I believe now that God is able to clearly communicate when he wants me to do something specific. Going back to Dallas Willard:
It is possible to talk about hearing God in terms of mysterious feelings, curious circumstances and special scriptural nuances of meaning to the point where God’s character is called into question. We must reply to this tendency by stating emphatically that God is not a mumbling trickster. On the contrary, we can expect (given the revelation of God in Christ) that if God wants us to know something, he will be both able and willing to communicate it to us plainly, as long as we are open and prepared by our experience to hear and obey.
The idea that a much of my life depends on my own initiatives has also seemed like an incredible time-saver. When an opportunity comes around, I don’t really have to sit on my hands and wonder if it is or is not from God. I take action (using wisdom and common sense) and trust that if God wants me to do something specifically, he will tell me clearly.
#4) What if, in spite of my disappointment, I choose to trust Jesus?
Let’s go back to the scene in the office where I just lost the opportunity of a new job.
As soon as I realized that I was not getting the job, I knew I was at a crossroads faced with a choice: I could choose to trust more in God or more in myself. In my head, I heard God replay a line from a TV show that I had watched some years ago. It was a show about Julius Caesar and the phrase was spoken by his famous general, Marc Antony. Antony’s group being threatened with an attack and he said this line. It wasn’t a loud proclamation, but a simple yet firm call to brothers in arms. It was:
“Rally to me, men.”
In military terms, rallying is when you come together to recover or reorganize in order to continue fighting. It’s usually after you’ve been attacked or suffered a small defeat. When you feel demoralized you would rally to a general and start fighting again.
God replayed this scene in my head as a way to speak to me. God wanted me to rally to him. I wasn’t defeated on a battlefield, but I felt a defeat in my career. But I could go to God and I could recover and reorganize. This wasn’t the end. I would fight another day.
1 year and 3 months later, the exact same opportunity came around, and I killed it. I now work in that new position. And I later found out that I probably was given a higher salary than I would have received before, as they were even more in need to have someone on the team!
Obviously we know that life isn’t always “clean” and doesn’t always resolve well, like it did for me. Sometimes you sit in disappointment for a really long time. It starts to feel like in limbo – you’re unable to go back or forward. Weeks, months, or years go by. But what if in these situations, you could make a conscious choice to rally to God? What would that look like for you?
What if in our lives we could look at our situations from a different perspective? What if we rallied and continued to fight? What if we realized that we have more strength than we think?